Minimising climate change
The changing climate patterns around the globe pose a formidable threat to people in all countries. Though there is a growing consciousness about this potential weapon of mass destruction, very little has been done in concrete terms to prevent this disaster.
Environmental scientists believe that if the emissions of heat-trapping gases, also known as greenhouse gases, are not reduced or controlled the global temperature might register a rise between 1.1 and 6.5 centigrade by the end of the twenty-first century with all the accompanying cataclysmic consequences for all of humanity. The major contributors to global warming are the US, China, Russia, the UK, Germany, Australia, Canada, Japan and Korea.
The climate change caused by global warming is responsible for freak weather conditions, hurricanes and severe flooding of settled areas. Pakistan and other developing countries are the worst sufferers in view of their inability to cope with the disasters triggered by climate change. Pakistan is already reeling under the impact of the devastating floods of 2010 and 2014 which caused enormous loss to standing crops, damaged infrastructure and properties besides hundreds of deaths.
In the 2010 floods nearly one fifth of total area of Pakistan was under water. In 2014, 23 districts in Punjab, give in Gilgit-Baltistan and 10 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir were badly hit inundating 2.41 million acres of land.
In view of the dangers posed by global warming, the countries of the world agreed to a treaty known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992; the world committed itself to work collectively to limit average global temperature increases and the resulting climate change, and to cope with whatever impacts were inevitable. However, realising the inadequacy of the emission reduction provisions in the convention, another agreement known as the Koyoto Protocol – which legally bound the developed countries to observe emission reduction targets – was concluded in 1997.
The protocol recognised that developed countries were principally responsible for the current high level of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity. The protocol also placed a heavier burden of responsibility on developed nations under the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’.
The first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. The second commitment period began on January 1, 2013 and will end in 2020. Regrettably, the US did not ratify the protocol and Canada withdrew from it in 2012. The second commitment period has also not been given legal cover as a growing number of countries including Australia, US Japan, New Zealand, Belarus, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Norway, Switzerland and Russia remain reluctant to commit to these targets. The developing countries have not been given any binding targets but they are still under the obligation to reduce their emissions.
As is evident, despite the known and acknowledged threats posed by global warming, the industrialised nations have failed to fulfil their obligations properly, and remain oblivious to the impending dangers posed by climate change. However, yet another agreement has been evolved at the United Nations Climate Conference, 2015 held in Paris on November-December 2015. Around 196 participating countries resolved to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5 centigrade, which according to some scientists will require zero emissions sometime between 2030 and 2050.
This agreement will become legally binding if joined by at least 55 countries which together represent at least 55 percent of global greenhouse emissions. Such parties will need to sign the agreement in New York between April 22, 2016 (Earth Day) and April 21, 2017. They will also need to adopt it within their own legal systems (through ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession).
Under both agreements, the proposed actions to be taken by the developed and developing countries include reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, supporting renewable energy, improving energy efficiency and reducing deforestation. The industrial nations were also obligated to help the developing countries cope with the consequences and mobilise resources to extend financial help and technology to the developing countries for climate related studies and projects. But, unfortunately, that still remains an unfulfilled responsibility on the part of the industrial nations.
Pakistan has been quite vocal on the subject, emphasising the urgency of practical measures in this regard. In his address to the UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif convincingly tried to make the case for the international community to intensify efforts to move from awareness to commitments to actions on climate change which is playing havoc with the economies of the developing countries.
Pakistan is the eight worst-hit country in the world as a consequence of climate change and the floods caused by it. Floods cause destruction of crops and soil erosion which could seriously affect food production which can in turn create famine-like conditions. The major environmental issues currently confronting Pakistan include climate change, water, energy, pollution, waste management, salinity and water logging, irrigated agriculture and bio-diversity.
Viewed in the backdrop of the foregoing facts the Prime Minister’s Green Pakistan Programme patterned on China’s ‘Green Wall Programme’ assumes great significance. Under this programme, more than one hundred million trees will be planted over the next five years all over the country along canals and roadsides as well as in the forest areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, AJK, Balochistan, Punjab and Sindh.
Forests undoubtedly are the best defence against environmental hazards and climatic changes. The optimal global standard in terms of percentage of land covered by forests is 25 percent of the total landmass. But Pakistan has only 5.2 percent of land under forest cover. Pakistan unfortunately also has the highest annual deforestation rate in Asia. As such there was a dire need to launch a massive plantation and reforestation drive – not only to check the process of deforestation but also to attain the optimal limit of 25 percent. The programme also includes regular stocktaking of forests and preventing their degradation, protection of wildlife as well as revival, protection and management of internationally recognised wildlife habitats.
The initiative has been firmed up in consultation with all the provinces and the GB and AJK governments which will join hands with the federal government in carrying out the implementation of the plan. The federal government will defray 50 percent of the expenses whereas the provinces will have to organise the rest of the funding. Ostensibly the plan and its targets seem quite achievable. However, the initiative represents only one aspect of the actions proposed under the Koyoto and Paris treaties. There is a need for a comprehensive and nationally-owned policy on the subject which encompasses all the elements of the proposed actions under these treaties.
This is not only the responsibility of the sitting government but also all the stakeholders in the future of the country including political parties. The media also has an important role in creating awareness among the masses about environmental issues and how to deal with climate change and its likely effects.